Transfiguration” Trio

Elements of analysis


Harmonically speaking, the work is structured by a “rainbow” chord (containing all intervals).

At a more local level, the work is structured according to two small “rainbow” chords X and Y each of four pitches.

Throughout the work, a number of intervals give a particular colour to different moments. Each interval is associated with a pair of absolute pitches from the vast aforementioned chord.

A particular harmonic field is constructed upon each pair of intervals, composed of different “rainbow” chords ordered according to their common pitches. These chords are pulled from the reservoir of the 94 chords of this type that are retrogradable and exempted from tonal triads like diminished-7th chords.

Rhythmically speaking, the work is striated from one side to the other into four vast and regular trains of pulse (composed respectively of 27, 64, 42 and 75 scansions) of which the only instances of general coincidence articulate the end of the introduction and the beginning of the coda. These trains subterraneously ‘skeleton’ the work.

- The “dancing” gesture results from the superposition of two rhythmic motives that intervene at a number of reprises in the work (the pitches here only serve to index the durations).

These two superposed motives put the different scansions in a bar of 6/16 and a bar of 8/16:

In terms of instruments, the work sets in play several specific musical categories:

- In a number of these moments, the trio adopts a conception put forward by Schumann: a piano accompanied by two friends (“a performer full of fire at the piano and two understanding friends that accompany him sweetly”), while at the same time the piano part to a large degree takes up material from my previous works for solo piano: Des infinis subtils.

- The clarinet is conceived as an instrument at different juxtaposed registers (the clarinet named “registered” the origin of which we can discern in certain brief passages in Mozart – the Concerto and the Quintet) rather than as a single instrument where the thresholds between registers (chalumeau / clarino / altissimo) would be effaced or neutralised. An entirely particular predilection is carried to the lowest formant of the instrument.

 - A heritage of Schoenberg, the violin is conceived as “the great nomadic violin” which moves to and fro across vast registers in broad and majestic steps. Taking after Schumman and Prokofiev (the sonatas for piano and violin), the work privileges the low register of the violin where it becomes sedentary.

- The piano borrows its fantastical character from the Schumann’s piano style, revisited by Elliott Carter (Night Fantasies), its violence and its savagery as in the first Boulez sonata taking largely from the use of the third pedal such as was introduced by Schoenberg in his opus 11 in order to deploy its resonating power.

- Beyond these instrumental specificities, the work deploys a form of instrumental indifference, taking its model from Bach and Schoenberg. This “instrumental indifference” requires that the same musical point of view circulates between different instrumental bodies without being caught up on the characteristics of such and such an instrument. The musical idea, here becoming incarnated in undifferentiated bodies, exerts a violence that liberates in the instrument a hitherto ignored power of expression (whereas brutality, as opposed to violence, stems on the contrary from destroying the singular musical power of the instrument).


Formally, the work is structured in a garland of “gesture-moments”:


1st Third: R1- (I)-F1-H1- (I)-D1- (I)-R2- (I)-F2- (I)-D2- (I)-H2- (I)-R3

transition : D3- (I)-F3

2nd Third (1): H3-R4- (I)-D4- (I)-H4

middle : (I)

2nd Third (2): F4- (I)-R5-H5

climax : (I)-D5- (I)-F5

3rd Third: R6- (I)-H6- (I)-F6-D6- (I)-R7- (I)-F7-H7-D7- (I)-R8- (I)-F8-D8


[ where R = moment of reverie, F = fluid gesture, H = hocket-gesture, D = dancing gesture and I = intermezzo]


- The introduction is composed of “style-citations” borrowing, successively, from:

§    Schoenberg (Moses and Aaron): the great nomadic violin,

§    Prokofiev (first sonata for piano and violin): the shadow from which the piano and violin emerge,

§    Schoenberg again (Pierrot Lunaire): the sombre, but not obscure, night;

§    and finally Bartok (Contrasts): the gravity of a choral-procession.


- The middle of the work is signalled by a style-citation (“popular” scordatura violin) borrowing again from Bartok (Contrasts).

- The climax, at the end of the second part, quotes one of my works (Toccatine, for guitar). This offsets for a moment the four trains of periodic pulse that skeleton the entire work.

 - The coda summarises the harmonic route of the work in order to better liquidate it and leave it to run aground in fine on the two rhythmic motifs composing the “dancing gesture.”


The form of the work could be viewed, beyond the garland of “gesture-moments,” starting out from the instrumental point of view indicated above. The concern of the trio then becomes the traversal of the inherited instrumental singularities (the great nomadic violin, the registered clarinet, the fantastical piano – resonant and violent) in order to better conquer, by way of instrumental indifference, a new collective identity of the trio:

- no longer the Schumannian formulation (friends centred on the piano part),

- nor a polyphonic and contrapuntal logic passed on by Bach (voices in canons and imitations),

- nor the superposition of independent instruments, three parallel worlds (heterophony),

- nor a classical matrix of potential conflicts (oppositions, interruption, tensions and resolutions),

but a new collective musical body invented by the work, a body of which each instrument is no longer simply a member, a body that thus conquers through bitter struggle the glory of the Impersonal.

We could thus metaphorise this movement in the following manner: the instrumental particularities of the three instruments are plunged into a pre-existent musical situation (Des infinis subtils) like electrodes into a tub of electrolysis. From this proceeds a dynamisation of the situation (a new force-field by magnetisation) and a condensation around the electrodes (the constitution of magnetic poles whose radiation exceeds the internal metallic structure of the electrodes). That is, a music which magnetises the inherited musical bodies and radiates them by way of new musical poles, beyond their structural particularities. That is to say, a music that prevails over the instruments, enveloping them, regenerating them rather than following them in more or less servile fashion.

For the trio (read: the instrumental formation and the work) it is a matter, in sum, of transfiguration.

The compositional concern of the trio comes in fact under what have named “the diagonal style of musical thought,” a style that seems to me able to be discerned in Schoenberg and, retrospectively, in Bach and Schumann (perhaps equally in Haydn).

In order to set to work this style of thinking, in this case for “diagonalising” a work for piano (Des infinis subtils) by means of an instrumental trio, it appears that one thing is the style of thinking (which gives form and perspective to the labour of thinking, to its “making music”), and another thing is the result: in this case the work which proceeds from this “doing” and this labour. It is in fact essential that the power of musical thinking is no more assured of its own style (the risk of thinking becoming mannerism) than of its result.

It seems to me that there is no better nomination of what emerges here, in this labour of thinking, than by convoking a word that ties two categories together: that of the figure and that of traversal.

It is as such that I name thus the concern of this trio:

That the diagonal style of thinking reveals its power of transfiguration!


(F.N., April 1997)

(Trans. Liam Flenady)